Are you busy? Feel busier than
you did 12 months ago? Yeah, me too. And I expect you’ve tried several
time management systems as well; and found many of them wanting.
Ultimately we all need to develop a system which works for us
personally. I thought I’d share a few of the elements which seem to be
working in mine, in case they are useful to incorporate into yours:
1. Write down every To Do
– and I mean everything. Build a complete list of everything that’s on
your plate. For instance, if you haven’t got a Personal To Do list –
stop right now an create one. For years, I kept a detailed professional
list, but my personal one was in my head. My professional life was
fairly organized, but personal one was more chaotic. Writing a Personal
To Do list put a stop to that. I know it sounds weird but it doesn’t
add anything you don’t already have to do. Just externalizes it, and
helps you prioritize.
2. Write each To Do in this format –
Topic / Action. So the Topic might be the name of a client or proeject,
and the Action would be a description of what you specifically need to
do. For instance, ‘Book / Call Matt at literary agent about dates for
book tour.’ Many people would simply put ‘Book tour’ or ‘Call Matt’.
Take the extra 15 seconds to write it all out so you save the brainache
of remembering it again later. The Topic will also help you group your
To Dos or to sort them if you store them online into category areas.
3. Write the creation date
– not just the deadline. In fact, I personally find that unless there
is a hard deadline, creating arbitrary ones is rather pointless since
priorities change so rapidly. By contrast, the creation date helps you
track how old a specific action item is. Then you know how long people
have been waiting. This is relatively new for me, but I quite like it.
4. Kill dinosaurs
– get rid of all those things which are lurking at the bottom of your
to do list. The creation date really helps with this. Be honest with
yourself – if it’s been there a month, it ain’t gonna happen because
it’s just not important. Or if it is important and you just aren’t
getting to it – check whether it’s still required, delegate it out, or
put it on a wishlist/someday tickler so you are reminded of it later
on. Then it’s captured but won’t bother you every day. Old To Dos
linger and make you feel bad, so kill ’em.
5. Focus on Must Dos –
at the beginning of every day (or the night before) choose three Must
Dos. These are the things which if you do nothing else, must happen
today. This is a powerful way to ensure you focus on the big things
and leave feeling satisfied. Ask yourself at the beginning of the day
‘Today will have been a good day if x, y, z happens.’ Then do those
6. Keep a Projects list – any activity
which requires more than one to do, is a Project. For instance, a press
tour with a client is a classic Project, involving multiple steps.
Write a list of all the Projects you have on the go, and at least once
a week, look over them to make sure each has an associated to do on
your action list. This will keep projects rolling along, and make sure
nothing falls through the cracks. Some projects are also so vast, that
it helps to break them down into mini-projects so you can check off the
milestones. We all like crossing things off, so don’t create Projects
which are going to take years eg Write best-selling book. Break them
down into something more achievable, like Find publisher. That may
involve multiple actions, but it’s a more realistic milestone so will
keep you motivated.
7. Catch up at the end of the week – inevitably your To Do list will start to get out of date in the heat of battle. So at the end of each week carve out some time to review it, add new items, check off old ones and to go through your Projects to make sure each has an associated action. This will help you stay organized, but also go into the weekend, knowing what’s on your plate for the following week. If you can also identify the Must Dos for Monday, even better since you’ll get off to a hot start on the week, and feel more relaxed over the weekend.
Those are some of my golden rules for managing To Dos. What are yours?